|Game Time: 7:00 pm EST
|TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
|Radio: 97.1 WFAN-FM
|Predators vs Blue Jackets coverage|
|Opponent's Blog: On The Forecheck
This is the last meeting between the two teams in Columbus, but they'll meet twice more in Nashville before the season ends. For the Jackets, it really couldn't come at a better time - the team is 6-1-1 in their last 8 games, while the Preds have been sputtering, for lack of a better word, going 4-3-2 and coming off a 3-2 loss at home against the Coyotes where they lost the services of Ryan Suter.
The biggest thing the Preds have going for them is the addition of Mike Fisher, who has provided a goal and two assists in four games since his arrival in the Music City. It's less about the contributions on the score sheet, though, and more the message that the team is going to really try and make an impact in the post-season this year - all the jokes about Carrie Underwood aside, I can't think of a bigger buzz around a deal by David Poille since they acquired Forsberg in 2007. I've no doubt that even with their recent inconsistencies (the team is in a bit of a "Lose one, win one, lose one, win one" rollercoaster), that has to be a big confidence boost for the room.
For the Jackets, though we continue to hope that Scott Howson will be active at the deadline to bring in some help for the team's weak points, the best news has been the way the team has risen to the challenge from within. Even the injury to Derick Brassard and the potential absence of Kristian Huselius, who missed practice again on Monday, hasn't dampened that, thanks to the strong play of Rick Nash, R.J. Umberger, Grant Clitsome, and rookie Matt Calvert, who has turned in an impressive effort since reaching the NHL earlier this year. His nose for the net has him second in goals for the month behind Rick Nash, while he just recorded his first multi-point NHL game on Friday. His speed and hands have been turning heads since he arrived in Columbus, and he's stepped up to the challenge when asked to play on the top six.
With the Jackets trailing the Preds 1-1-1 in the season series to date, a strong win on home ice would go a long way towards increasing the team's chances.
Keys To The Game:
- Get Hornqvist - One of several Preds riding a points streak, Patric Hornqvist is right on the heels of Shea Weber to be the club's top overall scorer this season, and he was a big part of their comeback win in Nashville earlier in January. The Jackets need to take him out of the game.
- Clean Sheets - The Predators are currently averaging less than 9 minutes of penalties a game - good for 3rd in the NHL - and when they DO have to face shorthanded situations, they've got the 8th best PK unit on the road. The Jackets need to take advantages if they find them, but it's going to be even more important to get things done at 5 on 5.
- Goaltending - Pekka Rinne is expected to get the start tonight, and he's damned good against the Jackets - 1.95 GAA and .926 save percentage in three games this year, but Steve Mason's no slouch either, sporting a 2.27 GAA and .915 save. Both goaltenders clearly get up for games against their rivals, but the Jackets need Mason to have the edge tonight.
The Jackets are hot and they've been rolling all month. If there was any time to get up on their Central Division rivals, it is now. A win tonight puts them in striking distance of 8th when they play Phoenix on Friday. While I'd prefer to avoid a three point game if at all possible, the Jackets need two points any way they can find them.
It's gonna be a big, nasty matchup tonight. I would expect Calvert to play on the second line if Huselius is out, giving them his speed and aggression, and if Derek Dorsett is reactivated for this evening, he'll likely go back to the third line to provide that little nasty edge.
Blue Jackets Information:
|Rick Nash||Derek MacKenzie||Jakub Voracek|
|R.J. Umberger||Antoine Vermette||Matt Calvert|
|Chris Clark||Samuel Pahlsson||Derek Dorsett|
|Ethan Moreau||Andrew Murray||Jared Boll|
|Jan Hejda||Anton Stralman|
|Fedor Tyutin||Marc Methot|
|Grant Clitsome||Kris Russell|
|Steve Sullivan||David Legwand||Patric Hornqvist|
|Sergei Kostitsyn||Mike Fisher||Martin Erat|
|Nick Spaling||Jerred Smithson||Joel Ward|
|J.P. Dumont||Colin Wilson|
|Jon Blum||Shea Weber|
|Shane O'Brien||Cody Franson|
Tidbit: The Star Wars opening crawl is iconic, but it might have gone a slightly different direction...